There are a select few times and places in this world where one is able to go from absolute mayhem to absolute silence in less than 15 minutes. The Rose Garden tonight qualified, as the Portland Trail Blazers dropped an ugly game to the Dallas Mavericks in front of their most hostile crowd of the season before retiring to a deathly quiet locker room to try to figure out what exactly happened.
It's hard to say whether the officiating crew or the crowd was the bigger story tonight. From early in the first quarter, the Rose Garden fans were riled up, expressing frustration pent up from more than a month of boring and/or non-competitive home games and a season that simply hasn't lived up to expectations. Every call that went against the Blazers -- correct or not, important or not -- incrementally ratcheted up the general anger. Things went from bad to worse when Nicolas Batum, much to his surprise, was assessed two fouls in the first quarter, forcing his exit from the game.
Things went from worse to slightly crazy when Juwan Howard squared off against Eduardo Najera near the end of the first quarter, after the two ran into each other with some force as the Blazers brought the ball up the court. Things immediately went from slightly crazy to crazy when the play was turned over to video review and the officials determined that Howard would be assessed a personal foul for the bump and a technical foul for a swipe he took at Najera after the play while Najera would not be assessed anything.
Things went from crazy to defensive shock/outrage when Rudy Fernandez was assessed a "We're trying to gain control of this game so we're assessing a ticky-tack technical foul" for flipping the ball in Najera's direction instead of giving it back to the referees after a quick foul was called on Jason Terry to start the second quarter. That attempt to calm the situation had the exact opposite effect and things turned ugly.
As the second half played out -- both teams struggling to hit from the field (The Blazers finished at just 36% shooting while the Mavericks shot just 34% -- the Blazers cracked first. During the third quarter, Dirk Nowitzki -- who gave the Blazers defense fits all night as his pump fakes and spins earned him 17 trips to the line -- appeared to travel by leaving the ground during a shot fake, Nate McMillan became incensed, screaming at the nearest official, practically begging for a technical. He was ignored, which only further incensed the fans.
Things then went from incensed to potentially violent late in the fourth quarter after Andre Miller pouted his way into a technical foul for reacting to a non-call on a driving layup. Fans began hurling items, including plastic bottles and other debris, onto the court and serenading the officiating crew with an extended "These refs suck! These refs suck!" chant throughout the next timeout. The Mavericks bench was surrounded by security personnel during the timeout but more debris was hurled into their huddle and, before play resumed, fans seated courtside were escorted from the stadium to applause.
At this point the tension was simply too thick. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. Something had to give and that something turned out to be Nate McMillan's cool.
As Brandon Roy was double-teamed near the three point line, Dallas point guard Jason Kidd swiped at Roy from behind and the ball wound up out of bounds. No foul was called and the refs indicated the ball went off Roy. McMillan jumped, stomped and shouted in disbelief and was issued a technical foul, the team's fourth and last on the night. "They reached," Roy told me after the game. "It's playoff basketball. They double-teamed, I felt like there was a lot of contact. You can't expect those calls. Nate was upset, that's his job to yell at the refs. I just said, 'Hey, out of bounds off me, I'll keep playing.' I think that's what we need to do a little more of, let Coach handle the officiating."
Unfortunately for the Blazers, Nate McMillan was able to handle his emotions after the game much better than he handled the officials during the game. After the game, a reserved, almost stately, McMillan was content to let the officiating pass without comment. "I'm not going to go there," McMillan responded when asked whether he thought the Blazers received the short end of the stick from the officials. "The thing is, they were in the penalty, shot a lot of free throws, felt like we needed to be a little more aggressive but I'm going to save that for another time."
McMillan's look-to-tomorrow attitude is understandable given how poorly his team shot from the field and how poorly prepared his team was for the defensive adjustments thrown at them by the Mavericks. In many ways, this was a game the team deserved to lose. Unlike their previous matchups this year, the Mavericks hard-doubled Roy whenever possible, forcing him to rotate the ball and forcing other Blazers to step up and make shots. With the exception of LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 27 points on 20 shots, and Rudy Fernandez, who played inspired basketball and finally got things going with 11 points (including 3 three pointers), the auxiliary Blazers were not able to rise to the challenge.
The Mavericks frustrated Roy (13 points on 14 shots, although he did add 8 rebounds and 6 assists) neutralized the Blazers on the boards (43 for the Mavs, 45 for the Blazers) and were happy to let Nicolas Batum (3 of 9), Andre Miller (2 of 12) and Jerryd Bayless (3 of 8) squander possessions with missed shots. "I could tell they gameplanned for our offense," Roy said. "It just felt like that Houston series, it was like, man everything we do they seem to know it. You could tell they pay attention to detail."
Lost in the insanity caused by the officiating and the team's poor offensive performance was a solid team defensive effort by the Blazers that left only Dirk Nowitzki (40 points, 10 boards) able to say he had a good game. The rest of the Mavericks -- Kidd, Jason Terry, Jose Barea -- didn't have anything going and only Caron Butler (18 points on 16 shots) was able to contribute significantly. In the end, it wasn't enough as the Blazers broke down on a key possession late, leaving Dirk wide open for a shot-clock beating jumper that served as the dagger, putting the Mavericks up 6 points with 1 minute to play.
The only thing left after that was raw frustration: The Blazers missed a tragically comical 4 three point attempts on the game's final possession and the fans again hurled debris and insults at the referees as they left the court, undeterred by a phalanx of four security officers that served as their escort.
All the venomous booing and the merciless screams faded into silence, though, as the Blazers dressed quickly and noiselessly in their locker room, quietly taking accountability for losing their cool and, in turn, dropping a crucial late-season game. It wasn't a sad silence or a mad silence but it was a defeated silence.
Random Game Notes
- Here's tonight's boxscore.
- Standings watch: Oklahoma City beat Phoenix, San Antonio lost to Memphis and the Blazers lost to Dallas. That leaves the Blazers a full game behind Oklahoma City (6th) and tied with San Antonio for 7th. Portland owns the tiebreaker over San Antonio so if the playoffs ended today the Blazers would finish in 7th and face the Mavericks, who are currently tied with Denver for 2nd. Here's a link to the standings.
- Courtside seats watch: Paul Allen took in tonight's game flanked by Larry Miller and Vulcan Flunky #1A Bert Kolde. Kevin Pritchard was at the Blazers Practice Facility this morning but was not seated courtside tonight. To my knowledge, Allen and Pritchard have not been seen in the same place together in public for months now. [Update (12:29PM): Apparently Pritchard watched the game while standing in the player's tunnel.]
- Before the game I randomly snapped this picture of Dirk Nowitzki. A picture is worth 1,000 fouls?
- Before chaos reigned, I enjoyed a great conversation with M. Haubs of the always excellent blog The Painted Area. Haubs is in town to see the Nike Hoop Summit tomorrow night, which you should attend if you get the chance. My scouting preview here.
- Both the USA and World teams from the Hoop Summit were able to meet the Blazers and Mavericks after the game. Two perfect rosters for representing the internationalization of the NBA: Batum, Fernandez, Mills, Nowitzki, Barea, Najera, Beaubois... not to mention DeShawn Stevenson and whatever planet he hails from.
- What's amazing about these elite high school players is how steeled they already are to the prying eyes of media and scouts. Today at the Blazers Practice Facility there were roughly 100 media members, scouts and management personnel from around the league (including at least 5 Blazers employees) watching the teams go through practices and scrimmages for roughly two hours for each team. The players, mostly 19 years of age, treated it like a job interview, as professional and reserved as you might imagine. To see them just a few hours later with huge, excited smiles, literally bouncing on their feet in anticipation as guys like Dirk and Brandon Roy emerged from the locker room tunnel was pretty jarring. They're kids again!
- The incident between Juwan Howard and Eduardo Najera described above was a great case study in vantage point. The play occurred right in front of me and I could have sworn Howard threw a punch at Najera. Of course, no such thing happened. After watching the first replay, I was sure Najera had leaned into Howard and cheap-shotted him with a shoulder. After watching the second replay from a different angle, I was pretty firmly convinced Howard had seen Najera coming and simply decided, "Screw it. Time to send a message," and leaned in himself. I tend to agree with the technical on Howard and no technical on Najera given Howard's swipe and menacing over Najera's prone body but I think both players should have been assessed personal fouls for their initial confrontation. Thoughts?
- Midway through the fourth quarter, enraged at referee Ken Mauer, Kevin Pelton pulled on the collar of his dress shirt so hard that it split his shirt down the back, leaving two pieces flapping. Pelton tossed the scraps aside in disgust and, clad only in a slightly stained "wifebeater" style undershirt, stomped down towards the lower bowl ready to lead a riot if need be. Swinging his Husky purple tie over his head like a cowboy might rotate a lasso, Pelton released his grip after generating maximum torque. The tie flew roughly 45 feet in the air, gently landing in the paint during a timeout. Despite his best attempts, two large female security guards succeeded in forcibly removing him from the premises. KP2's birthday is tomorrow; Hopefully he is not spending the night in Multnomah County Jail. But if he is, hopefully he was able to borrow a new shirt on the way there. ***
- The NBA was all ready to issue a memo apologizing for all the blown calls tonight but the list was so long it extended onto 4 pages (even when printed using 10 point font). Given that the NBA's Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver was in attendance tonight celebrating the Blazers' eco-friendly stadium, the league decided it would be best not to distribute the memo, as its absurd length would require the elimination of a vast swatch of Brazilian Rainforest. A PDF version for you to download and view on your computer may or may not be made available in the near future.
- All told, I watched roughly 9 hours of basketball and spent an additional 4+ writing about basketball in the last 15 hours. I'm seeing spots. I hope this post made sense.
- *** Update (12:29PM): For the sake of clearing KP2's good name, the above bullet was a satirical birthday prank. I thought that was clear but I've gotten some calls and emails about it so let's be crystal clear: Pelton's shirt remained on throughout the duration of last night's game.
Nate McMillan's Post Game Comments
How did you handle the calls and the technicals?
Well, you know, before the game I said basically this is what we're going to be faced with next week. We're going to be playing at this type of intensity where every call is going to be questioned. You've got to stay calm out on that floor and be able to get to the next possession. You've got to be able to play that style of basketball and then you've got to be able to get to the next play. I thought we were ok. There was a lot of calls that guys felt they were getting hit and you've got to play through that. And situations like that. A week from now, I would say definitely in our next three games with the opponents we're facing, starting with tonight, LA, who is in the playoffs, Oklahoma City when they come in here on Monday, it's going to be that type of atmosphere. We've got to be able to play through that.
Tonight was a lesson learned?
This is the type of basketball that it's going to be. It's going to be a grind it out, you've got to execute and be able to run your offense. Defensively be able to play that style of basketball and again, get to the next play. I don't think we were bad, I thought it was a lot of stoppages of play with those guys going to the free throw line. But I think that's playoff basketball. You're going to get hit sometimes and you've got to be able to play through it.
This time of the year you're going to see this style of basketball. And we talked about that, expect it. Where it's going to be a physical game, a grind game, every possession is important. So you've got to take care of the ball, you've got to execute. Defensively you can't assume that anyone is going to go get balls. It's that time of the year.
He didn't get to the paint a lot. We were fouling on his jump shots out on the perimeter. But he went to the free throw line 17 times and you can't put a guy like that on the line. They got into the penalty early in a couple of those quarters and I thought they took advantage of that. We got into the penalty with about 7 or 8 minutes to go in the quarter and at times I thought we settled as opposed to attacking the basket. I felt we could get to the basket and we settled at times.
Defense on Brandon
Well, you know we didn't have a lot of movement. We needed more movement tonight, better screens to free up guys and basically it was a lot of iso(lation) at times and they're not bad. They got into him. They tried to pressure him and any time there was a screen they double teamed him and trapped him and forced other guys to make shots. They, at times, just left the weakside defender and went over to double-team Brandon. We're going to have looks like that and our guys have to knock down those shots.
Short end on the calls tonight?
I'm not going to go there. The thing is, they were in the penalty, shot a lot of free throws, felt like we needed to be a little more aggressive but I'm going to save that for another time.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter